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Study shows people can be trained to be more compassionate
Date:5/23/2013

MADISON, Wis. Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.

A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of WisconsinMadison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The report, recently published online in the journal Psychological Science, is the first to investigate whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.

"Our fundamental question was, 'Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'" says Helen Weng, a graduate student in clinical psychology and lead author of the paper. "Our evidence points to yes."

In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, "May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease."

Participants practiced with different categories of people, first starting with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the "difficult person," such as a troublesome coworker or roommate.

"It's kind of like weight training," Weng says. "Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion 'muscle' and respond to others' suffering with care
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Contact: Alison DeShaw Rowe
deshaw@wisc.edu
608-890-3074
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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